SA Spurs: Dejounte Murray’s breakout season is fueled by his drive to lead

San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray
San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages
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A lottery talent who slipped to the 29th pick in 2016, Dejounte Murray has been a natural fit for the San Antonio Spurs since the day he stepped onto the practice court. With defensive tenacity that can only come from within, Murray’s tireless work ethic has put him in a position to reach his potential with each passing season of his professional career.

San Antonio had large shoes to fill when it signed and traded DeMar DeRozan to Chicago, leaving Dejounte to become the No. 1 option by default. Even as one of the younger players on the team, Murray accepted the challenge of guiding the Spurs in the right direction by instilling confidence in younger teammates and passing on the franchise’s coveted corporate knowledge. He leads by example but doesn’t hesitate to pull a teammate aside to talk through difficulties and plays.

While he’s never been a high-volume offensive player, Dejounte’s countless nights locked in the gym are showing in a big way. His improvements have come across the board in a season when most players across the league are struggling to find their rhythm between more lenient officiating and a new brand of basketball. Dejounte is setting career-best averages in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and field goal attempts per game while improving his overall true shooting percentage.

Though making an All-Star game in the Western Conference is a tall task, Murray is posting All-Star caliber numbers for a San Antonio Spurs team that has kept almost all of its games close through a grueling early-season slate. Much of their competitiveness in the early season can be credited to Murray’s steadying presence as an unselfish on-court leader who can bail the team out by dribbling into a pull-up mid-range jumper whenever he needs it.

At one point in his NBA career, Murray had a minimal natural feel for the point guard position. He averaged 4.4 assists and more than three turnovers per game at the University of Washington, which turned many draft scouts off to him as a prospect. Despite the odds being stacked against him, Dejounte learned the point guard position from Spurs legends while adding his own flavor to it through suffocating perimeter defense and instinctive rebounding ability.

It’s easy for the casual spectator to attribute Murray’s breakout campaign to DeRozan’s departure, but that line of thinking fails to properly weigh Dejounte's progress during his half-decade in San Antonio. For as much time as Murray has logged to improve himself on the court, he’s done just as much off the court to grow as a man and a leader. Regardless of the Spurs’ wins and losses, this growth deserves to be celebrated.